Today we enter the two weeks of Passiontide when we reflect on the suffering of Jesus for our salvation. The Triduum is too short to give proper attention to all that Jesus experienced so it’s good to give time to ponder each day in Passiontide all the suffering Jesus endured from his agony in Gethsemane to the triumphant cry ‘It’s finished’ as he died on the cross.
Let us just reflect today on what Jesus felt in the hours immediately after his arrest in the garden after he had celebrated Passover with the twelve.
The temple police who had arrested Jesus in Gethsemane hurried him, his arms bound with a rope, along the Kidron Valley on the east side of Jerusalem. On previous occasions when people had wanted to capture Jesus, he had slipped away safely. Now he had voluntarily surrendered because he knew it was his Father’s will. He had accepted the cup of suffering and death. Death in less than 24 hours. Now he felt utterly alone, although in fact Peter and John were following at a distance. The rest of his disciples had fled. But Jesus wanted them to escape arrest. Their time would come but it was vital that they continue the mission the Father had given him.
Those who had arrested Him paused at a flight of steps leading up, out of the valley. The old stone stairs are still in place and now countless numbers of pilgrims go up them. They lead up to where the residence of the High Priest once stood. The police were taking Jesus there to be tried and questioned by Caiaphas and the Council of the Sanhedrin.
Now the High Priest’s residence has been replaced by a church dedicated to St Peter in Gallicantu, that is St Peter at cockcrow, commemorating the apostle’s threefold denials that he was a follower of Jesus.
Caves have been found under Caiaphas’s house, which could be used for storing rainwater and provisions but also as prisons. In the courtyard of the present church there is a round hole and below it a large empty cistern has been constructed. It reminds us that Jesus would, most likely, have been lowered through such a hole on a rope and kept in the pitch-black cistern below until the court of the Sanhedrin had assembled. It was cold and the middle of the night.
In the darkness and the cold, Jesus pondered and prayed. He tried to make sense of what was happening to him. Had God forsaken him? Why? Was God’s kingdom still imminent, as he had said it was? What should he say to the Sanhedrin?
After a long wait, the guards hauled Jesus up out of the prison to face his accusers. The main accusation concerned what Jesus was alleged to have said about the temple. If it were destroyed he could rebuild it in three days. Thus he seemed to claim divine powers. Jesus made no answer to his accusers. The High Priest was exasperated and demanded that Jesus declare on oath whether or not he was the Messiah, the Son of God. Jesus affirmed that he was. He went on to say that he would appear in the clouds of heaven for all to see. Caiaphas at last had the guilty admission he wanted. Jesus had blasphemed and everyone had heard him. The sentence was death. There was uproar and the guards began to beat Jesus up. The High Priest and the elders of the Sanhedrin decided to take Jesus to the Roman Governor, Pontius Pilate, to persuade him to have the death sentence carried out.
As dawn broke, at Cockcrow, Jesus was taken out of Caiaphas’s house and saw Peter in the crowd by the door. Peter could not look at Jesus and the Lord knew Peter had denied that he was a disciple, even more he had said he didn’t even know Jesus. Peter, the leader of the apostolic band had seen Jesus heal many and heard his marvellous teaching on many occasions. He could have testified that he was convinced that Jesus was the Messiah, the Son of God, but he didn’t. Peter broke down in tears, no longer able to follow Jesus to see him sentenced and crucified.
Later after the Resurrection Jesus forgave Peter and the apostle was the first to testify to thousands in Jerusalem at Pentecost that Jesus was the promised Messiah and Saviour.
On Passover night, in Caiaphas’s house Jesus had been utterly rejected. The incarnate Son of God came to his own people, God’s chosen people, to save them and reconcile them to God but they had completely rejected him. This surely caused Jesus the deepest suffering. The chief religious leader of God’s chosen people and their highest court had condemned God’s Messiah, their king to death.
‘He was wounded for our transgressions’, as Isaiah, the prophet, said. ‘He was bruised for our iniquities. The chastisement for our peace was upon him. By his stripes we are healed. The Lord has laid on him the iniquities of us all.
Crispin Harrison CR